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Anyone have an idea of what's going on?

  1. Feb 7, 2008 #1

    lisab

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    Four years ago, during a thunderstorm in the middle of the night, I heard transformers around our house blowing - pretty normal in our neighborhood, during a storm. Then I saw a bright light flash outside the window, and heard our electric garage door open. I woke up my husband, thinking maybe we had been hit by lightning. We investigated but couldn't find any obvious damage.

    But we did find that half of our power outlets didn't have power. Then we heard one more transformer blow, and we lost the rest of our power.

    Now fast-forward to last night. A windstorm hit about midnight. I'm a light sleeper, so I was wide awake, listening to the storm. Then I again heard transformers start blowing. I sat up, and saw a bright light outside our window. But it wasn't just a flash - it was a steady white, very bright light. It lasted about 4 seconds. There was some popping noises.

    OK, now comes the weird part. The corner of the bedroom started glowing red-orange. I was absolutely startled - there's nothing in that corner but a pillow and a ficus tree. It had gone out by the time I could get out of bed - no noise at all. It lasted maybe 2 to 3 seconds. There was no charring, no smell either. I never saw the source of the light.

    And like the first incident 4 years ago, half of our digital clocks were flashing, so they had momentarily lost power. But only half throughout the house.

    Our house is on the middle of a slope, with houses above and below it. It's a newer neighborhood with utilities underground. The first incident, none of our neighbors noticed anything (guess they aren't light sleepers -- lucky!). I haven't yet talked to any neighbors about last night.

    So - what the heck is going on? What could cause half the power in our house to go out? Would lightning cause an electric garage door to open?

    But mostly, what in the world was that red-orange light?!?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 7, 2008 #2

    Mk

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    That sounds pretty scary. Sounds like a plasmoid in the corner.
     
  4. Feb 7, 2008 #3

    wolram

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    Could be ball lightning, it sounds very much a case for it.
     
  5. Feb 7, 2008 #4
    Did you see the light outside for those 4 seconds? Did it reflect in anything into your eyes?

    Seems to me sitting in the dark for an hour or so, then having a bright light shine outside for 4 seconds, possibly reflecting off of something in the room into my eyes, then looking in a corner could easily be similar to looking at a light then looking away(ghosting effect). The fact that it appeared only in the corner could have merely been because you looked there and didn't look away.

    -Just trying to come up with most logical explanation for it.
     
  6. Feb 7, 2008 #5

    lisab

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    I like that...quite possible!
     
  7. Feb 7, 2008 #6

    Astronuc

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    Two phases come into the house, and you probably lost one phase.

    The voltage between phases is like 220/207 V and thats how one gets the 220/207 V for dryers and oven. The voltage between line and neutral is ~100/110V, and that is normal house current.
     
  8. Feb 7, 2008 #7
    Assuming that youe garage door opens to the outside, then maybe a pressure difference between the air in your garage and the wind outisde could have forced open your garage door.

    Since half of your power was gone, maybe your transformers were hit again? im not sure
     
  9. Feb 7, 2008 #8

    Moonbear

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    I'd go with Astronuc's explanation for the half power outage thing, since he would understand that better than I. Unless, of course, you somehow have two different power lines supplying your house. I once worked in a building where only half the power would go out during storms (every other light in the hallway). Only our floor did that. It was some quirk of the building having both a power supply from the university power plant and another back-up supply from the municipal power. Our floor was the only one with this dual power supply, so the other floors either had power or didn't, while ours was half and half. I think it had to do with it being an old hospital building before being converted to lab space, so some floors that were critical care had redundant power supplies, but most had been converted over to just one or the other during some stage of renovations (we were on the former maternity ward...seems appropriate for folks studying reproductive sciences).

    As for the garage door opening, possibly a power surge triggered it before or after the outage? You're lucky, whenever I have a power failure, the garage door is stuck shut. I've had to pop the garage door opener off and manually open the door, only to have power turn back on before I finish backing the car out. :grumpy:

    I'd tend to chalk up the orange-ish glow to a reflection of some sort, as was already suggested.
     
  10. Feb 7, 2008 #9
    The ground is being charged (gathering charge is opposition) to the charge in the clouds. Sometimes there's a glow around transformers and sub-stations too. This isn't too unlike a solar storm, but it is different. The powers lines, whether in the ground or overhead transmit the charge and can cause fuses to blow, etc. The ground may be a little more conductive than a lot of other soils, too.
     
  11. Feb 7, 2008 #10

    G01

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    I have to agree here. It may be that your eyes were still, what's the term, over exposed from the long flash.

    Also, as Moonbear said, the Garage door could possibly have been triggered by a power surge. This has happened to my garage door once or twice as well.
     
  12. Feb 7, 2008 #11

    NateTG

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    Some garage doors are set up so that they automatically open in the case of a power failure.
     
  13. Feb 7, 2008 #12
    Great, so in NO after Katrina, some portion of them just opened right up for the looters.
     
  14. Feb 7, 2008 #13

    Moonbear

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    How would that work? If the power has failed, how are they powered to open?
     
  15. Feb 7, 2008 #14
    Spring system, I'd surmise.
     
  16. Feb 7, 2008 #15
    Or possibly some charge stored some batteries that's triggered once power goes out?
     
  17. Feb 7, 2008 #16

    NateTG

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    I think it's batteries. (I also think it's typically for parking structures rather than single car garages.)
     
  18. Feb 8, 2008 #17

    Moonbear

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    Ah, batteries would make sense, as would opening the gates on a parking structure rather than someone's home garage door (I'd be really annoyed if my garage door opened every time there was a power failure...we get a lot of power outages here due to nearby construction moreso than storms). For home garage doors, there's a release pull/handle thingy to disconnect the door from the drive chain so you can open it in a power failure (or make it so someone can't kill the door opener/door by hitting the door opener button if you have locked the garage door).
     
  19. Feb 11, 2008 #18

    lisab

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    Thanks everyone. I love logical people!

    I told this incident to several folks (my secretary, my sister-in-law, my neighbor, etc.) and got several...well, non-logical explanations. Poltergeists, lost souls, and my favorite: pixies. Yes, pixies... my sister-in-law is sweet as can be and I love her to death, but she really does believe in "magic" :rolleyes: !
     
  20. Feb 11, 2008 #19

    jim mcnamara

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    The standard residential service in the US is 100amp 200V AC.

    When you lose one phase, one side of your service panel loses power (the fuse box or circuit breaker thingy), so it looks like some stuff is on, other stuff is off.

    If you saw bright light lasting for a few seconds it was a recloser
    http://www.cooperpower.com/Products/Distribution/Reclosers/ doing its thing.
    When transmission lines break and hit a ground the arc light lasts until the utility cuts power to the feeder. That can be many minutes.
     
  21. Feb 11, 2008 #20

    turbo

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    Actually, this is the opposite of the physiological response to bright light. When your eyes are dark-adapted and you see a bright flash, the after image is a dark spot.
     
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